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Lauren Stange

An article in the New York Times in March 20 discusses the fact that President Obama has “courted” gay men and women during the past few months in order to gain voter support as well as campaign donations.  The article mentions that Obama has made strides for this community, citing his abolishment of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule barring openly gay men and women from serving in the military.  However, the interesting fact the article brought to light is the fact that Obama opposes gay marriage and that this topic happens to be the top priority of many gay rights organizations.  In response to many of the president’s top supporters in the gay community that are pressuring him to change his opinion, aides to the president have said that his views are “evolving.”

This article provides an example of a candidate being faced with the predicament of possibly having to sacrifice his or her own position on a topic in order to gain needed support, both through votes as well as monetarily.  Aside from the internal conflict a candidate experiences when faced with this issue, the more important concern the candidate likely weighs is what other current and potential donors and voters would think. What this shows is that even though candidates do create fundamental goals, positions and initiatives, these are never concrete and are always subject to change when under pressure.

Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas briefly discuss the relationship between interest groups and candidates in regard to the fact that interest groups support candidates during elections that may or may not continue their support for the group’s efforts post-election.  Their article does shed light on the idea, but does not discuss the consequences that come with a candidate’s decision to support an interest group.

Uri Ben-Zion and Zeev Eytan explain this idea in detail in their article titled “On Money, Votes, and Policy in a Democratic Society.”  Ben-Zion and Eytan support the idea that candidates may change their positions on an idea by creating a formula that weights the benefits a candidate may receive from changing his or her position.  Ben-Zion and Eytan explain the formula by saying,  “if a candidate can obtain contributions only in return for a change in his policy, he may have an incentive to do so if the loss of votes from changing the policy is less than the percentage of votes he can attract by using the money.”

Ben-Zion and Eytan’s article does support this position, but the two make the point that there is a difference between a candidate’s “true positions” and “subjective estimates of the positions,” which is others’ perceptions of their positions based on past actions.   This seems to allude to the internal conflict a politician may have about policies, but does not address the issue.  Not addressing this and only discussing the mathematical rationale supports the idea that internal conflict is less of an issue for these candidates than the numerical one of money versus votes.

Many articles describing this phenomenon only take into account interest groups’ goals of gaining votes for their desired candidate and or influencing policy and candidates goal of increasing funding and number of votes.  One large issue many of these articles leave out is the harm a candidate could cause by changing positions and appearing unstable and indecisive—two characteristics not characteristic of a leader.

For example, John Kerry was attacked on many occasions for his 2002 vote, which gave President George W. Bush authority to use military force against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a war he later criticized during the 2004 presidential election.  A 2004 article in The Washington Times discusses how Kerry labeled the war in Iraq as “worse than Vietnam,” and hoped to gain swing voters that decide it better to pull out of Iraq than to fight.

In conclusion, candidate’s positions on hotly debated topics, such as gay marriage and the War on Terror, are likely to be influenced and or changed by his or her constituents regardless of his or her personal views.  Deciding factors candidates weigh when deciding whether or not to support an interest group that seeks to influence policy are the influence the decision may have on votes, the potential increase in campaign donations and the possible change in overall perception of the candidate.

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